Reflections from the UCL gender and health launch

This blog discusses three key take home messages from the launch of the UCL Center for Gender and Health.

Eleanor MacPherson, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

02 March 2017

Photo of Eleanor MacPherson


Two years ago, when my son was two years old we met one of his friends from nursery in the park. They ran around together chasing each other. My son took a corner too sharply and fell scraping his knee and burst into tears. His two-year-old friend strode over, pointed at my son’s tears and told him to stop crying because “boys don’t cry.” As a feminist trying to bring my children up sheltered from damaging socially constructed stereotypes it was a stark reminder that we still need radical and disruptive changes to our society.

I was reminded again of this when I attended the launch of the UCL Centre for Gender and Health on Thursday 16th February. Two of the central themes that shaped the discussions during the launch were the need to disrupt and challenge the status quo to come up with new ways of being and doing.

For me it was very invigorating to be engaged and involved in these discussions and there were three key insights I gained from the day:

  • Psychological and economic violence is deeply damaging: Rachel Jewkes’s excellent presentation highlighted the deep damage that psychological and economic violence can do to women. She voiced the strong message that these forms of violence are not “Intimate Partner Violence-lite” but something that needs to be taken seriously and included in our policy interventions.
  • It is vital to work with men on gender transformative interventions: Benno de Keijzer’s presentation began by reminding us how masculine ideals do real harm to men’s health. The presentation of statistics on car accidents, suicide rates, and alcohol abuse really brought this home and reminded me again that gender stereotypes are not only bad for women they are also deadly for men. His work in Mexico provided fascinating insights and examples of gender transformative interventions with men. So often gender transformative approaches have focused narrowly on women and it was refreshing to see different ways that these can be successfully taken forward.
  • Gender isn’t binary and LGBTI people’s needs matter: It was really refreshing to hear a discussion from Maureen Fordham on gender and disasters. She reminded us that that gender isn’t a binary concept (that we need to go beyond the categories of male and female to include people of other genders) and that the rights and needs of LGBTI communities are deeply and frequently invisiblised in disaster responses. Her point that to even mention these groups exist can silence discussion in many health-related fora was a stark reminder of how far we still need to go.

It is all too easy to become hopeless and despondent at what needs to change in society but spending the day surrounded by academic and practitioners who do want to challenge and disrupt the status quo was incredibly inspiring and gives me hope for my children’s future.